Castlevania is a brand new Netflix mini-series adaptation of the classic video game series of the same name. The show is, indeed, mini clocking in at just over 90 minutes. It is a respectable attempt at doing what is typically as seen as impossible: adapting a video game into another medium and having it not be a horrible mess.
The series has some great things going for it: Trevor Belmont’s excellent portrayal as an anti-hero equipped with badass weaponry and one-liners, the terrifying Dracula and his relatable revenge story, and the classic tale of people being led astray by blind faith. It also has fantastic animation and some truly gruesome moments that go even beyond what is typically seen in the games. The score is also worth mentioning as it is a fascinating and appropriate blend of heroic fantasy melodies and electronica.
However, Castlevania suffers the same problem that many Netflix shows do. It sets up a really interesting story with the first episode and doesn’t really get back to that story until the final episode of the season. Fortunately, Castlevania only leaves viewers with two “filler” episodes and not the traditional eight or more. This isn’t to say that the middle two episodes are bad. They’re decently well paced, feature a handful of cool action scenes, and touch on a couple of interesting themes (the danger of blind faith being huge in this case), but they ultimately just feel like a bridge between two great episodes.
What makes the bookend episodes so great? The ‘pilot’, if we even have pilot episodes nowadays, moves swiftly and doesn’t spend a second dragging its feet (despite being the longest episode at 25 minutes). Dracula is introduced as a charming, if frightening, man with an arsenal of magic and science at his disposal. He is quickly turned into a near-demonic entity as he is thrust into a simple, but compelling revenge quest that quickly brings the people of Wallachia to their knees. Romantically driven revenge plots are always a safe bet for capturing attention, even when dealing with a vampire lord who appears to be on the power level of some deities. Without spoiling too much, the season finale justifies some of the mystique of the prior two episodes and sets the series up for a riveting second season.
The show is excellent in terms of adaptation. Belmont has his signature whip, Dracula is a fearsome force to be reckoned with, and the demonic hordes are destructive and primal. Quite a few of the creatures that make up the classic Castlevania bestiary make an appearance, one or two of which will no doubt be a treat to long time fans of the video game series. The design of many locations, namely Dracula’s castle and the Catacombs, are clearly inspired by the games.
Overall, Castlevania is good. It is quick, beautiful, and satisfying to watch. The action sequences are especially enjoyable. A few of the themes feel a bit too on the nose and lack subtlety. The filler moments are certainly there, but they don’t hang around long enough to become particularly bothersome.
Fans of the Castlevania video games are especially likely to enjoy Castlevania, while non-fans will still likely pick up on enough to enjoy the mini-series. It is not a great series to watch if you’re the type of person that likes a self-contained story that doesn’t require a sequel. Castlevania season 1 feels more like the appetizer for an upcoming entrée (or a demo to the main game). To its credit it’s a tasty appetizer that leaves me hungry for more vampire killin’.